One of the funniest bits on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was a recently filmed clip that found a square, married Caucasian couple watching Eminem perform an incendiary, anti-Trump cypher in an underground parking garage. "We're with you, Macklemore," yells the husband in the car, before fading to black. We won't know if Macklemore found that hilarious, since he didn't answer my question about such good-natured ribbing. Shame that, as Macklemore's newest album, Gemini — a solo enterprise sans his longtime producing partner, Ryan Lewis — is just that: open, ebullient, and without too much of his usual sociopolitical rants and raps, nothing like 2012's message-heavy, Grammy-winning, massively successful The Heist, or its somewhat heavy-handed follow-up, This Unruly Mess I've Made. With that, Macklemore is touring without Lewis, and he plays the Fillmore on Monday.
You and Ryan Lewis released This Unruly Mess I’ve Made last year. What did the feeling you had regarding that record have to do with recording on your own now? And is everything done with Lewis or is this just a break?
First and foremost, Ryan is my brother. We've worked together every day for the past 10 years, so it really just felt like the right time to take a break. But it's all love between us, and he's doing some great things, including having a lot of success with "Praying," which he did with Kesha. I'm really proud of This Unruly Mess, and I also know that it is undeniably a dense album in places. We took on some intense and polarizing subjects, and it was a creative process that required a lot of conversation and analysis.
Was it easy to find the solo Macklemore, more centered and having to concentrate on making all of your own decisions in terms of songwriting and production?
This album for me was about getting back to the studio and just enjoying the process. I made this album with a couple friends in my basement, with my family upstairs, so I was just in a really good place. From start to finish, it took us nine months to make, and I've never finished a project that quickly. Our whole goal was to channel the spirit in the studio and have fun — you know, first thought best thought.
I ask this in particular because Gemini seems more about letting loose, and, frankly, having breezy fun without too much polemic or political and social rhetoric. Is it hard for you to just let loose?
The album is called Gemini for a reason. As an artist and as a person, I'd like to think that I am multidimensional. For people that have followed my music and career, they know where I stand politically. And I didn't necessarily feel the need to be explicitly political on this album. It's still a part of my live show, and I'm still engaged personally in issues that I care about. I didn't set out to make this album a certain way, or with certain topics or issues. And I think that music and art is an act of resistance. Given our current political climate, with so much fear and hatred being spread, music is such an important outlet. And for fans to show up and enjoy live music together, that is a beautiful response to the divisiveness of the moment.
What was the first song written and recorded for Gemini that guided specifically where this album would go?
"Ain't Gonna Die Tonight" was the first song we recorded, while we were on the road in Europe in a few cities. It's also the first song on the album, and it definitely sets the tone. We just let the creative spirit flow and trusted the process.
So does the softer, more personal approach to Gemini have anything to do with going the opposite way of Unruly Mess and its hard-line sociology?
I think Gemini was really just about me making art that reflects where I am in my life and music that I wanted to listen to. We got into the studio every day and just enjoyed the process. We tried to follow the intention of every song, and for me to be honest about where I'm at. So Gemini is all over the place in many ways, and I like that, because that's who am I, and that's part of the human condition.
Your grandmother was in “Glorious.” Was she totally game for being in that clip, especially riding around Cali?
She was. I mean, she's 100 years old, so I had a conversation with my mom first, like, "Is she going to be up for this?" But that's who my grandma is. She is full of life and energy and has a great sense of humor, so she was great throughout the whole process.